The ugly secret of South Asian color prejudice

If you are a member of a group in America that is viewed with disdain by conservatives, there are few faster ways to career advancement than to espouse the views of those same conservatives. You will be hugely rewarded with political support, jobs, and media visibility on conservative outlets like Fox News. Conservatives will gratefully accept the chance to have people of color spout derogatory statements about other people of color, since this enables them to get those views out but provides them immunity from the charge of racism.

The dirty secret is that you do not have to search hard to find members of the south Asian community who are willing to play along. Within the South Asian community there is a strain of anti-black racism and color prejudice that runs through it. Jeet Heer exposes this ugly underbelly in a good article titled How to Make It in Conservative America (If You Aren’t White) that I found rang true to my own experience. He looks at the problem in general but focuses on how some South Asian conservatives have used that racism to advance their careers by ingratiating themselves with the very people who despise their heritage. If you are willing to be such a tool for them, you can go places by being willing to be co-opted to serve their purposes.

Heer focuses some attention on Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley but spends the bulk of his essay on the odious Dinesh D’Souza who seems to have cottoned on early while in college that he could get mentors who could advance his career if he was willing to say the things that they themselves could not say for fear of being called racist, and he soon came under the wing of a professor of English Jeffrey Hart who also was a senior editor at National Review.

In 1975, Hart published a startling review of Jean Raspail’s xenophobic novel The Camp of Saints, a didactic tract warning of the dangers of mass immigration from India and other poor countries. The novel celebrates the heroism of a ragtag band of right-wing heroes (including a tank commander and a duke) who wage a sniper campaign against the refugees. “In this novel Raspail brings his reader to the surprising conclusion that killing a million or so starving refugees from India would be a supreme act of individual sanity and cultural health,” Hart wrote in a National Review rave (September 26, 1975) that compared the book to modern masterpieces by James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence. “Raspail is to genocide,” Hart continued, “what Lawrence was to sex.”

Hart’s praise of Raspail’s novel might seem at odds with his sponsorship of D’Souza’s career. But even in reviewing The Camp of Saints, Hart distinguishes between good immigrants who assimilate to white culture and the refugee horde who must be exterminated. As Hart notes, Raspail’s novel features a character named Hamadura, “a very black Indian” who “has lived in France and become completely assimilated by Western Civilization.” As the character notes: “Being white isn’t really a question of color. It’s a whole mental outlook.” In his prize student D’Souza, Hart found his own version of Hamadura: a “very black Indian” who has the mental outlook of a white conservative.

Anti-black racism, I’ve often thought, is one of the more unwholesome manifestations of assimilation. If blacks are near the bottom of the perceived racial hierarchy across North America, some enterprising immigrants find it useful to step on blacks as a way of climbing higher.

Racism among South Asians has some peculiar qualities; it’s not so much hatred of the other but the hatred of the almost-the-same, akin to a sibling rivalry. At the heart of this sort of immigrant racism is the desire to differentiate oneself from the group one could easily be identified with.

D’Souza’s racism makes sense if we view it as part of his long effort to succeed in a right-wing milieu that is both anti-Indian and anti-black. Within that context, D’Souza has given saliency to anti-black racism to compensate for a potentially embarrassing background as a Mumbai-born immigrant. Is D’Souza sincere in his beliefs or simply an intellectual mercenary? It’s impossible to know for sure. What can be said with certainty is that as an Indian willing to voice anti-black sentiment, D’Souza has carved out a lucrative niche for himself, enjoying a national audience from the time he was an undergraduate.

Color-based racism is endemic on the sub-continent, where people perceive a huge range of colors within the range of brown, with lighter-skinned people being seen as more attractive even if the differences are slight. When a baby is born, the first thing that people look at is the color. Of course, we know that a newborn’s color may not remain the same as the child grows to adulthood, so there have grown various pieces of folklore that claim to predict the adult color, such as the color of the fingernails.

The irony is that there is no doubt that Asians in the US have benefited greatly because of the civil rights struggle engaged in by African Americans. African Americans expanded the Overton window on racial acceptance and that has resulted in south Asians in particular being seen as the ‘good’ people of color. As Heer says:

D’Souza and many others have benefited from the African American Civil Rights Movement. Prior to 1965, America set severely restrictive quotas on immigration from non-white countries such as India. The creation of a more generous and less racist immigration policy came about as a direct result of civil rights agitation and the work of liberals such as Ted Kennedy. Going back at least a century, South Asians and African-Americans have made common cause in fights against colonialism and racism: It’s no accident that Martin Luther King Jr. cited Gandhi as a predecessor, or that Bayard Rustin supported Indian independence.

But rather than being grateful to the African Americans who struggled and suffered for the civil rights that we have so benefited from, these south Asians like D’Souza and Jindal and many lesser-known people now act as if they achieved their success independently of that struggle.


  1. A Masked Avenger says

    George Zimmerman is an aberration probably best ignored: the media seems to have “promoted” him to white, perhaps because if the headline were “Hispanic man stands ground, shoots black youth dead,” there’d have been a danger that we might be distracted from guns and stand your ground as the issue, by racism against Hispanic people.

  2. Chiroptera says

    If you are a member of a group in America that is viewed with disdain by conservatives, there are few faster ways to career advancement than to espouse the views of those same conservatives. You will be hugely rewarded with political support, jobs, and media visibility on conservative outlets like Fox News.

    But only if a few of them do so. The goal of conservativism isn’t really to get the immigrants to assimilate; racism and bigotry are themselves the goal. The promotion of a few ethnic conservatives is just a fig leaf to cover the inherent racism.

    If all South Asians were Republican conservatives, there would be no reduction of racism. Rather, the community leaders would be coopted into the “war against liberal elites” and paraded to show of the Republicans’ “big tent,” but the rank and file would still have to endure the usual everyday racism they do now.

    Sort of like how poor white people who vote Republican are screwed by their policies, it’s just that non-white conservatives would continue to be screwed harder. In fact, I suspect that the racism, even when it’s not open, is one of the issues that distract poor white people into not noticing that they actually have common cause with non-white people.

  3. oldskoolnyc says

    Yeah, I’ve always said that about George Zimmerman. He was not Jorge Zamora!

  4. mnb0 says

    Another dirty secret is that in The Netherlands you do not have to search hard to find members of the Turkish or Moroccon community who are willing to play along.

  5. DsylexicHippo says

    I have no doubt that toadies like D’Souza make most Indians cringe in discomfort. He is the worst of the worst. I was disappointed that he got away with probation and community service. A little bit of jail time love from some of the very people he despises so much would have done him a whole lot of good.

  6. moarscienceplz says

    George Zimmerman is an aberration probably best ignored

    I have no idea where you got this idea, but it’s simply not true. I grew up in a small town in southern Arizona, which is about 25% Mexican/Hispanic heritage. I can name dozens of Hispanic heritage people who are hardcore conservatives and racists to boot, even towards other Hispanics. My brother in law, for one.

  7. Ed says

    D`Souza also seems inordinately proud of the fact that his family has origins in a part of India that was once ruled by the Portuguese and that they have been Catholic for centuries(or something like that; I’ve only heard his gushing description which also praised the Inquisition). So it’s kind of a double colonial mindset. Forced Westernization even before British India.

    I never thought I’d hear a phrase like “…is to genocide, what Lawrence is to sex,” unless Hell turns out to be real and my job is co-hosting a book review TV show with Hitler.

  8. aashiq says

    A very perceptive and thoughtful writeup. In India before independence the British created a social class of “brown sahibs” to run the locals. It seems to me that slavish blacks and browns are a terrific middle layer.

    D’Souza is from Goa, and converts from Hinduism to Christianity were from the lower classes, such as untouchables (Brahmins didn’t convert). I’m no psychologist, but he seems to have problems that run far deeper.

  9. oldoligarch says

    “If you are a member of a group in America that is viewed with disdain by conservatives, there are few faster ways to career advancement than to espouse the views of those same conservatives.”
    Sounds like conservatives are choosing to support people on the basis of their values and ideals. I thought Leftist believed this was a good thing.

  10. Mano Singham says


    Viewing people of color with disdain is not really a noble value or ideal that merits adopting by anyone, is it?

  11. oldoligarch says

    @3 Chiroptera,Humans are tribal animals, period.Racial and ethnic characteristics are usually correlated with shared ancestry.

    Economic class just doesn’t have the same emotional appeal as kinship,.as committed socialist/communist have learned over and over.

    Only religious identities have shown the ability to build ties among people that can rival the ties of ethno-racial and ethno-cultural national identities.

    I suspect Mano’s hostility to D’souza is at least partly rooted in his belief that D,Souza has betrayed their own.

  12. lorn says

    “Is D’Souza sincere in his beliefs or simply an intellectual mercenary? ”

    There is a third possibility, Stockholm syndrome. Conservatism, with its lock on money and power, and casual acceptance of the ism, including but not limited to racism and sexism, has effectively captured and controls a good part of all the economic high ground. The culture has, in some ways, liberalized but the economy, outside tech and the liberal side of media, is firmly in control of the right. If you are seeking prosperity, for the same reason that you rob banks because it is where the money is, your most likely and direct option, is to ingratiate yourself with the extant powers, most of which are firmly in the conservative camp.

    Stockholm syndrome is typically pictured as working at an unconscious level. But usually with an option for conscious acceptance of the self-serving turn of mind in a back-and-fill, after-the-fact manner. I don’t know of any rule that says people might become more self-aware. Sincere belief, simply the most likely method of making it in the US
    and an option on mixing and matching because the three are not mutually exclusive, or is it more a matter of acceptance of a cold and uncertain reality, and individual weakness in the face of those realities.

  13. Holms says

    @11 ;That they view people of color with disdain is your opinion Mano.

    An interesting thing to say, given the number of unevidenced opinions you have asserted so far. As for the general conservative disdain for non-white people, this is well documented.

  14. oldoligarch says

    @15,”An interesting thing to say, given the number of unevidenced opinions you have asserted so far…”

    I offer history as my evidence.

    @15,”…As for the general conservative disdain for non-white people, this is well documented.”

    I suspect you believe this country (U.S.) is run by conservatives and for conservative interest,and you clearly believe in a “general conservative disdain for non-white people”

    If that’s the case then why can’t they get a handle on non-white immigration,and stop “the browning of America” which presumably they would deplore.

    All manner of White leftist love to criticize White people and their societies.
    I believe it’s motivated by the same psychological mechanism that motivated the flagellants of the Late Middle Ages to whip themselves and others in punishment for their “sinfulness”
    .I suspect the flagellants despite their own guilt, felt morally superior to the amused and bemused bystanders.So it is with leftist Whites.

    Well rest easy my wayward Brethern (and sisters too )lay aside the lash , if you take a close look at the history of the societies controlled by “people of color” their record on the things that matter to you are no better than ours,and often WORSE.

  15. Broken Things says

    Run on over to Red State, old oligarch. Your brand of condescending pseudo-intellectualism is valuable currency over there.

  16. Holms says

    Well, at least I discovered you were totally without sense early, before engaging in a pointless debate with you.

  17. says

    You know, I’ve often thought that there is a serial dishonest streak infesting the far right in the US.

    But oldoligarch reminds me that it’s not dishonesty as such: it’s bullshitting combined with delusion. (*)

    Dishonesty implies knowing that what you’re saying or writing is not true. Bullshitting, as defined by Harry Frankfurt, means it doesn’t matter, and delusion means even if you don’t know or care whether your words are true (because it doesn’t matter), that’s all right because they must be Truth™.

    (*) By delusion I mean fooling oneself into accepting what is untrue as true, as compared to any clinical psychological illness.

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